CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1 This book is sometimes a difficult read. The meanings of many words or expressions, doubtless commonplace for archaeologists, are all the less clear for the uninitiated, given that their use can vary depending on the period under study. And yet, no glossary is provided.

2 In substance, Augereau argues that no one has yet approached prehistory with a clear determination to submit it to a true gender analysis, one that goes beyond the mere comparison of findings about each sex. However, in the course of the book it becomes apparent that the study of gender relations is based less on the actually observed facts than on the hypotheses proposed to interpret them. The chapter entitled ‘Le genre dans tous ses états’ (The Many Faces of Gender/Gender Troubles) does not show otherwise. Moreover, the scope of the detailed analyses Augereau presents in the book is more modest than the formulation of her initial objective—to offer a ‘true gender analysis’ of prehistory—suggests.

3 The clash between the two attitudes emerges clearly in the concluding chapter. In it, the author remarks that, overall, much has been said about men, but very little about women, a symptomatic observation. How can gender relations be examined if the sexes are addressed separately? In reality, Augereau, like all prehistorians, addresses questions of gender on the basis of the very limited available means.

4 Her study focuses on the early Neolithic period in Europe and, more precisely, the Linear Pottery (or LBK, from the German Linearbandkeramic) culture which progressively spread from the Carpathian region towards the Paris Basin, from the beginning of the fifth millennium BCE to the early fourth. She focuses particularly on the Paris Basin, selecting a sample of 574 individuals (including 106 women, 109 men, 163 immature individuals, and 109 adults of indeterminate age) out of a population drawn from the excavation of funerary sites in the area. She draws heavily on an abundant literature on the other regions of LBK culture. She explores the transition between the Mesolithic and this first European Neolithic culture, which arrived from the Middle East, colonizing areas already occupied by hunter-gatherer peoples. Her discussion of its disappearance, on the other hand, is relatively brief.

5 All the observations used for the study of sex differences and gender relations are from burial sites. Inferences are drawn from the layout of the tombs, the condition and arrangement of the skeletons, the presence and nature of ‘grave goods’. All these are, of course, considered in relationship to the sex and age of the deceased, where these could be determined.

6 The observed differences between men’s and women’s burials are clear, but it can be imagined that they are sometimes as much a matter of social class as of gender, as they distinguish members of the same sex from each other as much as they do women from men. There are, however, elements that characterize men more specifically (notably weapons used for hunting, war, or to control fire), whereas none are identified that are so clearly specific to women. This marking of sex identity is one of the keys to the interpretation of these findings in gender terms. There are others: notably, differences in nutrition whose traces can be measured in the skeletons, but also the ‘circulation of women’. The latter is reflected mainly by the traces of massacres whose objective was doubtless related to the abduction of women, and of men’s arrogation of the right to land—deduced from the fact that men had more often remained where they began, while the women more often came from elsewhere.

7 These elements of analysis are based on the (sometimes dubious) interpretation of factual observations. And yet, Augereau does not hesitate to conclude that they demonstrate the strongly patriarchal nature of LBK culture. Admittedly, it is hard to imagine that this is not the case, but in scientific terms, the conclusions of this (very interesting) study amount more to presumption than to proof. For example, the author does not clearly consider the hypothesis that the surprising specificity of the Paris Basin—no trace of markers of male identity, very marked hierarchy in women’s burials, no trace of massacres or the kidnapping of women—could reflect a society that was more peaceful and less inclined towards male supremacy, or even one that was matrilocal or matriarchal. But this is just one of various possible interpretations. All the more reason to read this thoroughly documented book.

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